Meeting Tom

I sat alone in my office for the day. Everyone else was out for this or that. The hours passed as I clicked and typed away, and finally I decided to get a breath of fresh air as midday dragged into afternoon.

On my way out, I noticed the door of that small studio near the entrance ajar, and I heard jazz music playing merrily into the hall. Glancing in as I passed, I saw the back of an older gentleman hunched over a work table, and canvases and papers hung all over the walls. I knew he used it as his paint studio, I’d often caught snatches of his work as I strode past, but I’d never met the man sitting at the table.

A couple people in my office had mentioned him. “He seems awesome,” my boss had said a month or two before. “I’ve never met him, but he seems like the coolest guy. He just sits and paints and listens to music and sometimes smokes weed.”

Walking back in, I didn’t smell any weed, but I did hear the music still playing, so I peered in. The man was painting something that lay flat on the table. When he set his brush down, I knocked lightly on the door.

He turned around and smiled questioningly when he saw me.

“Hi,” I said, pushing the door open slightly as he stood up. “My name’s Chris, I work down the hall. I just wanted to introduce myself – I’ve seen your paintings as I pass by and they’re just beautiful.”

“Hi, my name is Tom,” he said warmly. He took a step forward, and swung the door all the way open with a lean. “C’mon on in, please!”

I stepped into the small room, and looked around at all the work on the walls. Modern, and colorful, and expressive. Beautiful, the type of studio I’d like to have if I were a painter. Tom was wearing a brown apron covering a button up shirt, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He looked to be in his 60s, with a white trimmed beard, and kind, bright eyes. He stood a few inches shorter than me, and his hands held loosely behind his back as he looked at me looking at his work.

“How long have you been painting?” I asked, turning all the way around and back to face him.

“A year,” Tom said, with the faintest hint of a smile.

“A year?” I responded with a tone of fane-disbelief, picking up on the joke.

“A year,” he said. Glancing around. “Some things take a lifetime to get to.”

This confused me, and it took a beat to respond. “You mean you really have only been painting for a year?”

“Yeah, I started about a year ago. I was in my first show last month,” he said, a boyish pride shining through the words.

I stared back at him for a moment, stunned. Then again turned around to look at the work on the walls.

“I worked in real estate my whole life – and I think I dreamt of painting that whole time, but never did it. So now – I’m painting.” He said, and smiled softly again.

I told him how surprised I was. Then I told him I’d just moved, and had been studying illustration. He asked where from, and I said Chicago. “I grew up in New York City,” he said. “In Queens. I think growing up with real winters makes you a little tougher. The people here don’t know how to handle anything!”

I agreed whole-heartedly, and we chatted a little more. The conversation rolled smoothly to a stop, and I said “thank you for letting me come in, it was so nice to meet you. I’m so glad I knocked on your door.”

“I’m glad you knocked too!” said Tom. “I don’t get many visitors here. If you ever want to talk about snow, or advice on LA living, feel free to knock again.”

“Thank you, I would love to knock again,” I said with a smile. “It was so nice to meet you, Tom!” Then, putting my hand to my chest, I said “Chris,” again.

Tom, doing the same, said “Tom.” We both chuckled.

“We did it,” I said with another laugh. “Hope you have a lovely rest of your day!”

A few moments later, I sat back down at my desk in my office, and exhaled. I felt a little dazed. I don’t know why – why I’d been so surprised when he said he’d only painted for a year. Why it felt like his eyes had been peering right into me. Why I felt like I just met someone important to me. But I was and they had and I did.

And now I wonder when I’ll knock on Tom’s door again. And what we’ll talk about then.